There are times when ADHD behavior is difficult to understand and can be confusing not only to the person experiencing the behavior, but to those around him. Case in point: I was coaching a high school student who had a very interesting, yet not unique experience with regard to forgetfulness. Now, forgetting is something that occurs quite often for adults and teens with ADHD – ironically the individual will often promise that they did indeed do something that never happened. Why would that be? Why, or better yet, how, does someone believe in their heart-of-hearts that they did something when they didn’t?
Allow me to share a story about this ADHD student who consistently ‘remembers’ that he has turned homework in, yet the teachers don’t have it and he no longer knows where it is. His friend “The Black Hole” seems to be at play a lot in his life. After several discussions and listening to his recounting of a telling story one day, I actually figured out what was occurring for him around this.
The Case of the Missing Costume
The ADHD high school student swore up and down that he had brought a costume home that was to be returned to the rental store by his mom that day. He could actually speak the order of events that took place from getting the bag containing the costume from his classroom on campus, bringing it into the car of the parent driving him home that day, and placing it by his feet once inside the car. That actually was where his memory left off. He then filled in the missing puzzle pieces and figured that he would have had to get it from near his feet in order to exit the vehicle and would have logically carried it into the house. The startling fact was the costume was nowhere to be found. A thorough search concluded it never got into the house.
WELL – what happened was his brain was remembering his THOUGHT PROCESS of how he PLANNED to get the costume home!
He never actually did it.
None of that happened, but what he recalled was the memory of the plan. His visualization became so concrete in his mind, that it felt very real.
After a few phone calls it was confirmed he never got the bag containing the costume to the car at all. The next day he saw it still sitting on the cabinet he envisioned getting it from after school the day prior.
He had so carefully, and purposefully, thought out how he was going to accomplish this task, and was so vesting in succeeding, he honestly believed that he had done it. It was that vivid in his mind. This seems to be an issue that occurs in multiple areas of his life and the lives of other individuals I coach and help with their living with ADHD.
The process of creating a plan to accomplish a task can be recorded in the memory as if it had happened even when nothing was done. Now THAT is some great visualization power! The missing link was not putting in place a system for making sure it actually was accomplished. Had he realized that this was the game his mind was playing, he could have applied some behavioral therapy tactics and set an alert to remind him to get the costume at the designated time. This in turn could have set off the remaining series of events, with a greater chance of them being played out as he designed. However, since the first step never happened, nor did any of the others.
None of it occurred. He needed a trigger to get that first step to happen.
Since this realization, I have seen this occur in other clients and when they notice it, they can arrest it and fix the situation. Visualizing is a fabulous tool, but action must be the end result or there is no purpose in it. Organizing for ADHD by incorporating multiple systems need to be put into play, or there may be holes in the actual action and no real results.